Thursday, December 11, 2014

Camp Bubbie and Saba in Florida 2014

We hit the ground running, literally, as we returned from our two-month vacation in Europe. Jess and Alex had driven down to our home in Orlando a few days earlier with Izzy and Yona, and had picked up Sami at the airport in Orlando. The following day, Jess retrieved us. We used the next few days before Jess and Alex started back home to take advantage of Jess’s annual pass at the Disney Parks and we all enjoyed the great weather by taking advantage of the pool. Jess and Alex also were able to meet up with their friends who were here vacationing with their children. They all had a buffet dinner together at Boma in the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

After their parents left, the girls easily fell into our summer routine. We would decide each night, based on the weather, if we wanted to go to one of the Disney parks. Sami would figure out which Fast Passes we would prefer and then she and Saul would book them in advance so we knew how early we needed to get going in the morning, or if we could spend the early hours in the pool, nap, and then arrive at the parks in the afternoon. Izzy and Yona were early risers, but frequently, Izzy would very competently cook breakfast for her sister, and sometimes, for the rest of us. After about a week of crankiness, tantrums, and falling asleep at dinnertime, Yona finally learned that she needed to take a nap in the afternoon if she wanted to have fun in the evening.

Erica and Danny drove down with Brenna and Ava at the end of July and stayed with us for about a week. This worked out well as Brenna and Izzy enjoyed the wilder rides. Erica and Danny would take her on these, while Saul, Sami,Yona and I headed for home early. Ava and Yona were great playmates and kept each other amused for hours each day. Because of Danny, and his gift to them of a few pins with lanyards, the girls got into pin trading in a big way.

Our weather was so beautiful this summer that we practically did not have any really rainy spells. On the few times we did, we cooked and baked together, made homemade ice cream, went to the movies, watched movies at home, worked on the doll house, and Izzy and Yona built amazing chair/pillow/sheets and blankets forts to play inside. Sami spent much time reading and making origami constructions. Jess was able to return after a few weeks. She obtained an inexpensive flight and spent a week with us at the beginning of August, while Alex was preparing for the next school year back home.

Although I had greatly wanted to visit Clearwater Beach or St. Augustine Beach with the girls, I was pooh-poohed for almost the entire summer. Everyone was so happy to have time at Disney and our pool that no one wanted to pack up a picnic and take the one to two-hour trip to the shore. When Jess visited, we did have one glorious day near Clearwater Beach. Purely by accident, while exploring a little further south, we discovered the fantastic, almost private, Belleaire Beach in a residential area of Sand Key. There was inexpensive parking for about 25 cars, a covered picnic table area, drinking fountains, outdoor showers, and clean public restrooms. Only a few dozen people were on the beach on that beautiful day. The one drawback was that there is no lifeguard, but the water was very shallow there for a long distance out, and was very calm that day. We just kept our eyes on the girls the entire time. Izzy was in her glory with her new boogie board.

Sami and I, and eventually, Izzy and Jessica, spent many hours doing the circuit at Hollywood Studios where they teach people how to draw the Disney characters. Saul would take Yona to play in actual snow, while we were drawing, at the Frozen experience, where they also had an ice-skating rink. They rented out skates for an extra fee and we took pictures of the Zamboni clearing the ice during July in Florida. Saul actually slipped and fell on the snow one day, but luckily, as he said, only his dignity was injured. We made it a point, this summer, to try to get the girls to all of the out-of-the-way attractions at the parks that they had never done before. There is little left that they have not done.

During the many times we have dined at Sweet Tomatoes, we have befriended one of our waitresses, nicknamed Jelly. We invited Jelly and her husband John, along with their four-year-old, Olivia, to join us for an afternoon in the pool. Although, in usual Florida fashion, the weather went from hot and sunny to teeming rain with thunder and lightning, we did manage to get in an hour or two in the pool. Yona and Olivia got along really well, while Izzy joined in and also played her part as protective big sister. We got to know Jelly and John much better outside of the restaurant. A few weeks later, we took the girls to Olivia’s birthday party at Monkey Joe’s and then to Jelly’s parents’ home in Winter Park for a light buffet, cake, and ice cream.

For Sami’s fourteenth birthday, while Jess was visiting, we had an incredible dinner at Artist’s Point in Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. During Jess’s stay, we discovered Beaches and Cream, an ice cream parlor at Disney’s Beach Club Resort on the Boardwalk. There, we indulged in a family-sized sundae, served in what looks like Minnie Mouse’s red plastic sink. We also had dinner at the Polynesian Resort when the girls became sushi-starved after a few weeks. The Polynesian Resort was undergoing a massive renovation at the time, but Saul and I had not been there since we had taken a family vacation with my mom and dad, our small children, and my sister and brother-in-law and their children many, many moons ago. It was a great trip down memory lane for us. The girls really enjoyed their dinners, and Yona flabbergasted our waiter with her appetite for sushi.

A few weeks later, we dined, along with Ken and Randi, at Whispering Canyon Café in Wilderness Lodge, a more informal restaurant experience, and had a caricature of Yona done by a Disney artist there so that she and Izzy could have matching ones hanging over their beds. Adele stayed with us for a few days, too, during the time that Ken and Randi stayed with us for a couple of weeks, beginning August 11, in preparation for moving into their new condo. I spent a day with them, while Saul entertained the girls, at Hudson’s Furniture with the decorator who helped us furnish our house, Heather. With our four heads put together, Randi, Ken and I, but especially Randi, chose almost a whole house full of new furniture to be delivered at the beginning of October when their tenants were due to move out. Although there have been many glitches with the furniture, Hudson has managed to make almost everything right, eventually. Ken and Randi also got along well with the contractor we used to get our home ready for move in. The condo looks great and we are so happy that they had a good experience as well. For a period of several days in August, Ken and Randi spent some time in southern Florida vacationing with Randi’s sister, Lori and her husband, Jules, as well as joining us for some of our adventures with the girls.

Ken and Randi flew back to Pennsylvania with the girls at the end of Camp Bubbie and Saba in order to put their affairs in order for the final sale of their home in advance of returning permanently to Florida and their new condo about five miles away. Jess met them at the airport, returned Ken and Randi home, and spent a few days getting the girls ready for the new school year.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Vacationing in England and Italy with Ari and Sami

Saul and I left Yona’s fifth birthday party on the afternoon of Mother’s Day, May 11, and began our headlong rush back down to Florida, so as to be able to wash clothes, pick up medication, get our house ready for a two-month absence, and repack our suitcases. Our plane was due to leave from Orlando International on Wednesday, May 14. Our first stop on our way to London—Philadelphia International! How ridiculous are airline prices?! We saved about $600 by submitting ourselves to this outrageous paradox. At least the situation gave us a chance to sleep in our own bed for a night.

The flight itself was actually quite pleasant. We left on time, had good weather, and our layovers in Philly and Amsterdam gave us just enough time to get to the proper gates, use the facilities, and rest for a short time before boarding. We were secretly hoping to be bumped in either of those places. Philly would have given us time with friends, and Amsterdam would have been interesting, but we were satisfied with relatively hassle-free connections.

Ari met us on the morning of May 15, at Gatwick Airport. We had a nice lunch there in a typical British pub, caught the train for central London, arriving at London Bridge train station, where we hopped on a bus in front of “The Shard,” and proceeded on the short drive to Ari’s beautiful, new, two-bedroom-two bathroom flat across the street from the Shoreditch Police Station. His flat was so centrally located, that Saul and I were able to travel on foot, or by a short double-decker bus ride to almost every place we wanted to tour in London. We spent the next several weeks seeing most of the city, some places (like the British Museum and Borough Market) multiple times. Ari joined us in our excursions on the weekends, and frequently met us after work to eat out together. We covered so much territory together that his colleagues chided him for trying to kill us “old folks” with such a grueling schedule. In the first two weeks there, we alternated ambitious travel days with vegging out in front of British television programs. Totaled up, we probably spent a few of our days watching everything we could find on a chef we discovered there, Heston Blumenthal, who should be considered a British national treasure. Why he is practically unknown in the United States we cannot fathom! When we returned, we tried to share some of his programs with the girls, but were only able to stream two or three from the U.K.

I probably should have kept a log of what we did each day that we were there, but we were just too tired, the computer was not that happy about intercontinental travel, and we were constantly thinking up new things to try. I guess it will have to suffice if I just simply list all the places we saw with observations about the highlights of our trip and unique aspects of British culture we observed, especially since my kids always accuse me of being too long-winded in these posts. The photos, for the most part, will have to speak for themselves. Suffice it to say that we had the journey of a lifetime! It was better than anything we could have imagined.

What we saw and did in London and its environs:
Full English breakfast at The Shepherdess Café; walking tour of Piccadilly Circus followed by some traditional English dishes like Scotch eggs and banoffee tart at Mews Art Gallery; shopping with Ari at John Lewis; Hampton Court; Borough Market under London Bridge for incredible artisanal food; Museum of London; Museum of London, Docklands; Cutty Sark; Greenwich Market; dim sum in London’s Chinatown; food shopping at a London Co-op Market; Bunhill Fields Cemetery; Tower of London; Banqueting House; buskers at Covent Garden and browsing the antiques and artisans’ tables; National Portrait Gallery; Buckingham Palace; Hyde Park; The London Eye; Number 10 Downing Street; Big Ben; Horse Guards at Whitehall, Westminster; Westminster Abbey; Tate Museum of Modern Art; Millennium Bridge; Shakespeare’s Globe Theater; Harrod’s Department Store; Victoria and Albert Museum; Brighton Royal Pavilion; Canary Wharf; Regent’s Park; Kensington Palace; Spitalfield’s; Kew Gardens; Platform 9-3/4 at Kings Cross Station, Brick Lane, Olympic Park, St. Bride’s Church; home of Samuel Johnson and statue of his cat, Hodge; Temple Church; original Twining Tea shop; Fleet Street, St. Paul’s Cathedral; Paternoster Square; Temple Bar; Trafalgar Square; statue of Boudica; Turkish haircuts ending with flaming sealing of the hair.

Highlights of our trip—London:
When we arrived by train for a day in Brighton, we were met, as we hiked to the seaside, by a long parade of nude bicyclists. They were protesting something, but what it was I don’t remember. At Borough Market, the fishmongers set up the gullible passersby (like us) for a scare from a very ugly monkfish (see video above). Discovering how Guinness truly should taste at The Eagle pub. Wow! Sprawled out on huge beanbag chairs on the floor of the Banqueting House to spend an hour contemplating the ceiling painted by Raphael while listening to a Rick Steves tour about it on our iPhones. Watching the horses being led to pasture at Hampton Court. Seeing the great vine, planted in 1769, which occupies an entire greenhouse at Hampton Court. Seeing the actual Rosetta Stone! The Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. Watching an elaborate parade rehearsal at Buckingham Palace preparing for the Queen’s opening of Parliament. Real, ancient, totally intact, Grecian urns. Watching the opening of Parliament on British television. Watching the Royal Ascot on British televison and seeing people returning from it on the train in all their finery, including those funky British hats called fascinators. Cruising the Thames with Ari on a KPMG ferry. Strolling and grazing alongside the Thames with Ari and Sami. Getting lost coming back from a day at Kew Gardens and happening upon an American-themed block party where everyone was dressed in Western gear and American flags were flying, but nobody there was actually American. Eating real British fish and chips. Indian food in London.

For Sami’s bat mitzvah, which took place last November, Uncle Ari had promised to take her on a vacation anywhere in the world that she wanted to visit. After much debate and negotiation, she chose Rome. Little did we all know, at that time, that Ari would be residing in London for a few years. So, in addition to us having the vacation of a lifetime in London, Sami got to spend several days in London with us as well, and we were able to join her and Ari on the Italian leg of the trip, which he extended to include Florence and Venice. Ari, the master of planning trips for us without benefit of travel agencies (Beijing, China, for example), outdid himself this time. The boutique hotels and inns where we stayed in all three cities were awesome!

What we saw and did in Italy and its environs:

Strolling the area around Piazza Navona, just down the street from our adorable, three-story house; The Pantheon, also just down the street; Vatican City; Sistine Chapel ceiling; Michaelangelo’s Pieta; St. Peter’s Square; Apostolic Palace; Swiss Guards; the Arch of Titus; Imperial Forum; Basilica Aemilia; Castel Sant’Angelo; the entire ancient city, including quarters of the Vestal Virgins, Colosseum, and Forum; Trevi Fountain (under construction); the original Jewish Ghetto and its synagogue; Piazza Campidoglio; Capitoline Hill; National Monument of Victory; outdoor copy of Michaelangelo’s David

Highlights of Rome:
Our special trattoria (Il Fico) an arm’s length across the cobblestone alley from our house, where our lovely, wonderful waitress, Gianna, plied us with seemingly endless, complimentary, glasses of Limoncello, as we waited for our outdoor table, and where, for about $10 we had the best pasta dish ever, loaded with white truffles, mushrooms and butter. We ordered the same dish, in the same place, every night for three days, and savored it as we listened to the violins of the street musicians under moonlight. I don’t think anything will ever be that perfect again! Eating breakfast across the piazza from the Pantheon, under an awning, while waiting for a teeming rain to let up so we could see the inside; Sami posing for photos under The Arch of Titus (now that Israel is an independent State) after sidestepping the ropes put up to keep tourists out (at the prodding of her Saba). Before 1948, Jews traditionally did not walk under the Arch. She got yelled out by a tour guide, but we got the photo anyway! Shopping for groceries for breakfast in nearby shops with Ari. Hunting down the best places for gelato with Sami. Watching the street artists paint with spray cans and flames in the Piazza Navona and Ari buying Sami the one with the wolf in it. Touring the synagogue, viewing its treasures, and strolling the Jewish Ghetto.

From Rome, we took a taxi to the train station. The train ride, which took about two hours, was comfortable and pleasant, although we were not all able to sit together because of seat-specific ticketing. Saul had a pleasant journey a few aisles down with seat mates that were English-speaking from California. One of Ari’s favorite memories was of me commenting that the countryside through which we passed looked exactly like what I pictured Tuscany to look like. He laughingly explained to me that Florence is in Tuscany, a fact of which I was not aware. We were truly looking at Tuscan countryside on our journey.

C Hotel The Style Florence (directly across the street from the train station, thanks to Ari’s great thoughtfulness and good travel karma); The Duomo, also known as Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral; Michaelangelo’s David and his unfinished Slaves in the Hall of the Prisoners, Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines, and Botticelli’s Madonna and Child in the Galleria dell’Accademia Museum among many other magnificent works of art; lunch at Trattoria La Madia; Uffizi Gallery; Palazzo Medici Riccardi; Piazza Della Signoria; Ponte Vecchio; Mercato Centrale; dinner at Trattoria 13 Gobbi.

Highlights of Florence:
The David! It literally took my breath away when I first saw it in person. It is the most beautiful and flawless marble I have ever seen. The view from the balcony of our hotel suite. As we hurried back from dinner, we narrowly missed getting caught in the teeming rain of a very violent thunderstorm. We watched the lightning show from our balcony as it illuminated the distinctive skyline of the partially blacked-out city due to power failures. Doing the Rick Steves walking tour of the city together with ear buds and iPhones. Choosing gorgeous, jewel-like, preserved fruits and Italian honeys for my collection at the Mercato Centrale.

While we waited to board our train from Florence to Venice, Ari and I left Saul and Sami with the suitcases and went to buy delicious sandwiches and snacks at a small restaurant/deli down the street from the station so we would not be hungry on our journey. Again, our traveling time was about two hours. Again, the ride was very pleasant, and this time Saul was able to trade seats so that we could all sit together. Nothing in my life had prepared me for the incredible beauty of Venice as I experienced my first glimpse through the huge glass doors of the train station. That first view of the canals on a beautiful, cloudless day was absolutely breathtaking, and nothing like the murky, moldy, deteriorating city I had expected to encounter.

Grand Canal; La Fenice; Saint Mark Basin; Palazzo Ducale; St. Mark’s Square (Doge’s Palace, Campanile, The Clock Tower, Bridge of Sighs); Ponte de Ghetto Vecchio, Campo Madonna, Rialto Market

Highlights of Venice:
The beautiful architecture. The lack of automobiles. Watching the gondolas. Riding the Vaporetto. Wandering the narrow streets on foot and getting lost in the maze of courtyards and small bridges. Having to retrace our path because there were no bridges in some places. Having dinner near our house alongside a small, quiet canal at sunset. Again, doing the Rick Steves walking tour of the city together with ear buds and iPhones. Shopping for groceries in the small bakeries and markets near our house. Touring the ancient Jewish quarter. Shopping for Murano glass souvenir necklaces in St. Mark’s Square with Sami.

We were all very sad to leave Italy. We all loved the culture, food, and people that we met far above anything we expected. The house where we stayed in Venice was so charming and comfortable that we vowed we would be back to enjoy a laid-back, extended vacation there. On the last day, we hopped a water taxi that took us across the lagoon to the airport for our flight back to London.

Our last few days in London were concerned with preparing Ari to move to a new flat in Greenwich. While his flat was beautiful, it was in a small building with very inefficient management and only one elevator, which was constantly breaking down and taking several days to repair. For the amount he was paying for the apartment, we felt he should not have to walk four flights of stairs, nor put up with dirty entranceways, and common areas. There was also no concierge, a problem for Ari anytime he needed to have a delivery, especially with the long hours he keeps at work.

We were only able to spend one night in the Greenwich apartment before it was time to fly back to Orlando for the beginning of “Camp Bubbie and Saba.” Saul and I traveled with Sami to Gatwick Airport by cab and placed her on her flight back as an unaccompanied minor. She had a good flight and was met without any problems by her mom, dad and two siblings who had driven down to our home the day before. Since Saul and I were leaving less than a day later, we arranged to stay at the Bloc Hotel, which is a box-type hotel within the airport itself. It was a very unusual set-up, but I would recommend it to anyone with a long layover in an airport. The clean, tiny room, with its comfy bed and bedding, was laid out very efficiently. The bathroom, with its shower was a wet room with the toilet paper in a protective cover so it would not get wet. Because we had decided to upgrade, there was a window in our room, but this type of accommodation is not for the claustrophobic. One caveat is that we were not able to check our luggage under this type of set up and had to drag our suitcases all over the airport until our room was ready, not a small inconvenience.

On our flight back, our information was misplaced when we landed in Edinborough. This had something to do with our switch from British Airways to American Airlines as part of the Oneworld alliance. They fixed the problem without too much stress and we were rewarded when we arrived in Philadelphia with a switch to first class seating for the flight from there to Orlando. The only other unpleasantness was the weather as we reached Orlando. A classic Florida thunderstorm was just getting underway and we watched bolts of lightning striking around us as we landed.

We had enjoyed the vacation of a lifetime, but we were very glad to be home, safe and sound, among our children and grandchildren. We had been missing our comfy bed and Florida weather and we were very much looking forward to the beginning of our next vacation, immediately, as Camp Bubbie and Saba was about to begin in the land of Disney World.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Time Spent Back in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Shortly after packing all our Passover stuff back into the seven cartons in which it is stored, and after restoring the house to the condition in which it started before the arrival of all our guests, Saul and I reluctantly began the drive back north; reluctantly, because we were leaving beautiful, warm weather, and a lovely, inviting pool just outside our door, to return to the land of boots, wool socks, tights, winter coats, and sweaters.

Months earlier, we had planned the trip for a few reasons. We wanted to be present for Yona’s “Alice in Wonderland” fifth birthday party and to make her a decorated cake as we have always done for all the girls on their birthdays. In addition, we still have not selected doctors here in Florida, and it was time for our yearly checkups and colonoscopies. We love our doctors in Pennsylvania and figured we would kill two birds with one stone, as the saying goes, so we scheduled everything to take place within a ten-day period shortly before our scheduled trip to London and Italy. Fortunately, our friends, Ruth and Giora, offered us the use of their home, within a few miles of Jess and Alex’s home, and Rif and Paul’s home. Ruth and Giora were, coincidentally, in Israel at the time. We can’t stay with our kids because I am allergic to Inky, their dog. Other friends and relatives offered their homes as well, but none live as close.

Before the party preparations began, Saul and I joined the girls and Jess for the season’s last pottery session where I got to make a dish that the girls said they would finish at a future time. Another bonus was being able to make challah with Yona’s preschool class on parents day. Alex’s sister, Naomi drove in also with Talia and Ava for the party. Jessica and Alex, as usual, prepared an over-the-top, incredible birthday party. The cake, which Sami, herself baked, was a three-dimensional teapot with mouse peeking out, based on art from the Disney version of the mad hatter’s tea party in the movie, Alice in Wonderland. Working together, with even Yona participating, we all produced the most amazing cake and tea party ever! Part of the fun was Yona’s guests designing and decorating their own party hats and their own cupcakes.

Our check ups, done on separate days because of a policy of the doctor’s office, produced happy results. In both our cases, all our numbers were well within the normal range. This was especially happy for me because Saul had been sticking a needle in my finger every day for the last year to check my blood sugar. He has been so good about this because I am a big coward about needles. My A1C, which was really abnormally high last year (over 10), was normal this time (6.7). This has given me the freedom to test my blood every few weeks instead of every day. The few times we have taken a reading, it has been well within normal, but I have still changed my diet to avoid as much sugar and white flour as I possibly can, a good policy even when my sugar is normal. In the last few months, I have been learning to make some of my favorite Indian dishes, which also contribute to lowering sugar levels with the use of spices like turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, and cumin. A recipe for dosas with masala aloo should appear shortly on my recipe blog. As things turned out, I had to cancel my overdue colonoscopy because the insurance company to which we have been paying large premiums this year refused to cover it, although they did agree to cover Saul’s because he is already on Medicare. Saul had a clear colon this time. Likewise, they only covered half of the expense for my mammogram, which was also clear. Woohoo! :o)

I was really incensed at the insurance company at the time, but since then, I have learned that it is one of the best policies we could have chosen once I am eligible for Medicare in six months. If I had opted out of it at the time, I would not have been able to opt back in. We learned all this in an extensive interview we had with a remarkably-informed, volunteer counselor provided free by the state of Florida for our county, which is Polk. Once Medicare kicks in for me, I will schedule a colonoscopy, which will be covered this time. Our wonderful neighbors here in Florida, Gary and Terry, gave us a list of doctors and dentists who come highly recommended by the folks at the nearby hospital where Terry works. She is the one who informed us about the existence of the health insurance counseling program.

While back up north, we were able to meet our good friends, Larry for lunch, and Roxy and George for dinner. The most difficult part of our new life is missing our friends of many years.

We accomplished much during our visit, and we were happy when it was time to hit the road south again. As the hours passed on our drive home, we began peeling away the coats, sweaters, and socks with the rising temperatures. We were due to fly to London for an extended visit with Ari (for almost two months) within a few days. The stupid thing was that, in order to get the cheapest rate for our flight to London, we had to be back in Orlando to take a flight to Philadelphia, then to Amsterdam, and then to London. We saved several hundred dollars on our flights by driving back to Orlando instead of taking the much shorter flight directly from Philadelphia.

We enjoyed friends and family up north, but we were so happy to be back in our home in Florida for a few days before our trip!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Begin Again

So much time has elapsed since my last blog post that I wondered if I would ever get back to it again. Consequently, I have decided to tackle the catch-up of roughly the last six months of our lives in several installments. They have been such wonderful months that I think I can say that this past year has probably been one of the best years of my life (and Saul agrees that it is one of the best years of his as well). This is no small claim as we are both old now and struggling with the usual assortment of aches and pains and “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” as Hamlet would lament in Shakespeare’s tragedy. The intervals can be easily divided, though, into “Passover with the Family (preparation and afterwards),” “Time Spent Back in Pennsylvania and New Jersey,” “Vacationing in England and Italy with Ari and Sami,” “Camp Bubbie and Saba in Florida with all three girls,” “Our Four Weeks of Relative Quiet regrouping before Rosh Hashanah 5775.”

Passover with the Family
Ken and Randi spent a few weeks with us in March enjoying the Flower and Garden Festival at Disney, checking out real estate with the intent of moving here, and spending a day meeting a recommended holistic doctor in Tampa Bay after which we lunched at Frenchy’s in Clearwater Beach. The Flower and Garden Festival included a series of “Flower Power” band concerts which we really enjoyed. Ken and Randi were here for Gary Lewis and the Playboys. We had some wonderful dining experiences together, including (with Adele) Artist Point at Wilderness Lodge, (our second favorite Disney restaurant), Jiko (with Adele, Lori and Jules) at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Kouzzina, Iron Chef Cat Cora’s restaurant at Disney’s Boardwalk, also Big River Grill, and the Captain’s Grill at the Yacht Club Resort there. At the end of March, they successfully bid on a three-bedroom condo in ChampionsGate, just five miles from our home, and began making plans to sell their house in Pennsylvania. As of this writing, settlement on their PA house takes place on September 30; we are picking them up at the airport that evening. They will be staying with us for a week or two until our contractor, John Hart, has finished the painting and flooring in the condo and their furniture arrives.

When we packed to move to Florida, Saul and I consolidated seven plastic cartons containing everything we would need to prepare a kosher Pesach for the entire family. Jess flew down with the three girls a couple of days before the Easter vacation and, as a result, got an absolutely fantastic rate (under $350 for all four of them). Alex drove down a few days later when his school ended, stopping in DC to visit with his sister’s family before tackling the long leg of the trip in one day. He brought an SUV loaded with all the accessories for the seder that has been taking place at their house for the last several years. As soon as they arrived from the airport in Orlando, the girl’s headed straight for their bedrooms, donned their bathing suits, and were in the pool within a half hour of their arrival. It was especially satisfying for all of them because of the polar vortex weather up north. Ahead of our preparations for Pesach, we spent a couple of days at the Flower and Garden Festival and the Magic Kingdom, having lunch at “Be Our Guest.” Yona was a little freaked out because we ate in the dark room of Beast’s castle where, periodically, simulated thunder and lightening enhanced the dark mood. We had a wonderful buffet dinner, along with Beth and Ari, who also arrived to celebrate the holiday, at Boma in Animal Kingdom Lodge. Saul and I purchased a Vision Kamado grill at Costco which we inaugurated during the holiday preparations, and which did a wonderful job of producing delicately smoked turkey, fish, and veggies. While the rest of us wrapped up our preparations for the holiday, Beth and Ari, who barely get to see each other any more, took a break and had a bonding afternoon at a nearby salon for pedicures and massages. Adele and Larry joined us for our first seder in Florida. We had a lively, lovely, and relatively stress-free seder with all the familiar accoutrements from past years. Our second seder was just as wonderful.

We spent the day after the seders just hanging around the pool and relaxing. Beth flew back to Arizona. The day after, we spent the morning at Animal Kingdom, where, among other entertainments, Izzy finally got to ride with her mom and Uncle Ari on the Expedition Everest roller coaster, twice. After lunch at home, a shower and a brief nap, we spent the evening at Hollywood Studios and saw Fantasmic! again. Yona chose not to see it again and spent some quality time bonding with Saba at some of the other attractions. She really enjoyed painting water-color Disney characters on the walkway at the exit with one of the Disney employees. We spend the remainder of the holiday dipping in and out of the parks and pool, enjoying such delights as a rock concert by The Grass Roots, Yona’s meeting with Alice in Wonderland, the butterfly pavilion at Epcot and the special Monsters University playground there. We were sad to bid our family goodbye and send them off back to the cold and bleak temperatures up north and “across the pond to the U.K.” We were even sadder that we were going to have to follow them into that weather within a few days for several reasons. Yona’s Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatter birthday party, medical checkups and a colonoscopy for Saul with our usual doctors.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Life in the Bubble

Sometimes, things work out in ways one couldn’t have imagined. Saul and I bought the house here in Florida back in May thinking that we had an agreement of sale for the amount we wanted for our house in Pennsylvania, and we were devastated when the sale fell through and we had to return the sizable deposit, and then when subsequent sales agreements were violated. We tossed and turned at night, having trouble sleeping, not knowing what our responsibilities would be before we would finally be free. We could not have imagined how much we would enjoy our new life in Florida, and that helped us put everything in perspective and get through the months of uncertainty. In the end, we sold our beautiful and beloved home in Pennsylvania on January 10, 2014, to an extended family who agreed to buy it “as is” for a far, far lower price than we had anticipated originally. Little did we know or expect the bullet that we dodged in view of the type of winter weather in the Philadelphia area that began in January and has lasted to the present moment as I write. Had we not sold the house when we did and as we did, we would have had the added aggravation of keeping inactive pipes from freezing in frigid weather, days-long power outages, snow removal headaches, and flooding worries. We dearly loved that wonderful dream home that we designed ourselves, and that rewarded us with 20 years of incredible memories. We had innumerable parties, incredible and unique Shabbat and holiday meals with family and friends, and even set up a clinic of sorts when Aunt Ruth, my mom and I all required nursing care at the same time. Our single-level living with wheelchair-accessible floor plan and bathroom enabled us to take care of Uncle Jack, Uncle Stef, Aunt Ruth, and my mother for a year of hospice care in a loving and inclusive environment. Although my kitchen in Florida is spacious and well laid out, it will probably never equal the state-of-the-art kitchen I designed there. It was a great 20 years!

In the last seven weeks since January 10, a great weight has been lifted from us psychologically, physically, and financially. The polar vortex, a term with which most people were unfamiliar until this winter, has left us feeling that we are living in some kind of delicate bubble here in Florida. While temperatures have been hovering between sub-zero and 20 degrees throughout most of the country, we have been blessed with warm weather and sunny blue skies through most of this winter. Our pool greets me when I slide open our shades in the morning, and most mornings, I open not only the shades, but the multiple sliding doors as well, to invite in the delightful morning breeze that wafts through the screened lanai that keeps out insects and birds. We keep the pool heated to 84°F. and we like to use it not only during the day, but to swim at night under the stars and moonlight when the air is warm enough. Having bought discounted-for-Florida-residents Disney annual passes, we are free to park our cars in any of the four parks and use all the facilities the parks have to offer whenever we like. A few times a week, we choose a park and spend several hours walking there. Being at the Disney parks, which are only 15 minutes from our home, certainly beats walking in the mall. We wake up looking at our palm trees through the window and are tempted to pinch ourselves each morning because we can’t believe we are not dreaming. Life feels like being on vacation almost every day. We wish our friends and family could be here more often to enjoy it with us and worry when they are dealing with shoveling, icy roads, pot holes, power failures, cancellations and cabin fever.

There have been many changes and highlights to our lives in the last few months since I wrote the last blog post on December 16. Ari rented out his home in Washington, D.C. on a two-year lease and moved to a sophisticated, brand-new, two bedroom and bath flat in London to work for the United Kingdom branch of his company. Jessica resigned from her job where she had become very unhappy and took over my business, from which I have pretty much retired this year. We enjoyed the most delightful Christmas holidays. Jess drove down here in one day with the girls and our friend Larry in his Tiguan S.U.V., while Alex led a Confirmation class trip throughout Israel. The girls were in their bathing suits and in the pool within minutes of walking through the door. Jess, finally relieved of all the stress of the last few weeks, slept for almost two days. Saul and I took the girls to the Disney parks multiple times. Sami and I took drawing lessons together at the Hollywood Studios park to learn how to draw some of the animated characters while Saul took the younger ones to the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” playground nearby. We took them at night to see the sensational Osborne Family Dancing Lights there.

On December 23, we all took the slightly over one-hour drive to Clearwater Beach for the most delightful beach day. The sandals came off the moment bare feet hit the warm, white, sugary sand. Before we had even dropped our stuff to make camp, 4-year-old Yona had stripped off her bathing suit cover-up and rolled in the sand, making a sand angel. Reprimanded for not waiting for sunscreen, she did not even wait for it to dry before rolling in the sand again. We had a delightful day bathing in the temperate water of the Gulf and basking in the warm sun, even though cocky seagulls snatched Sami’s sandwich right from her hands as we picnicked. Yona took charge of the situation and chased every last seagull away from our area of the beach, looking and sounding so formidable that we all laughed until we cried, including some of the other beach-goers around us. We spent December 24 at Animal Kingdom catching one of the last “Lion King” performances before it was closing for months of renovations. The girls wanted to bake together while they were here and they chose to make dozens and dozens of hamantaschen with me on December 25, 26, and 27, most of which we froze and sent home with them for the upcoming Purim holiday. We hung out by the pool, cooked great meals together, ate out in restaurants, especially Sweet Tomatoes, Kumo, and Woodlands. Right before New Year’s Eve, Ken and Randi flew down and Ari flew in from a month-long stint in London to join us. We shopped for special ingredients, and supplemented by some unique British victuals compliments of Ari, we prepared an amazing feast to welcome in the new year in our new home. New Year’s Day was spent at Epcot where Yona and Izzy met Winnie the Pooh and Tigger.

A couple days after New Year’s day, Jess and Larry headed back home with the girls, leaving in the evening with the intention of driving straight through. About an hour after they left, Jess called to say that they had a flat tire along with a number of other cars who had all hit the same piece of a drive shaft that someone had dropped in the road. The tire was beyond repair, but when AAA came to put on the spare, Larry could not find the key to his locking lug nuts. The car had to be towed to a nearby repair shop and Saul and I left in the Pilot to pick them all up after midnight to bring them back for one more night here. They left after lunch the following day, once the car had been repaired. Fortunately, Ari’s house was available, so they stopped in D.C. late that night to rest up for the remainder of the drive. Ken and Randi flew back on January 5, encountering all kinds of flight delays due to inclement weather in other parts of the country. They had to wait at Orlando airport from about 6 p.m. until after midnight to finally get a flight home and didn’t arrive home until the wee hours of the following morning. Usually, it is a little less than a two-hour flight.

The next day, we began our travels north with Ari to help him wrap up his affairs in the United States in advance of moving to London. It had been snowing in DC, and we watched the temperatures dropping as we proceeded north. We stayed overnight in our usual Comfort Inn Suites in Florence, SC. While Ari wrapped up things in the office, Saul and I began packing up his personal things. Three different management companies that he interviewed all independently agreed that his furnishings were of a quality that could stay, a great relief to all of us because it made the packing far less complicated and meant that he would not have pay for storage facilities while in London. Ari is not one to accumulate a lot of stuff, so we were able to fit anything he wasn’t taking in two suitcases to London into the back of our SUV for the trip back to Florida. During our stay in DC, settlement finally took place (without our presence) on our home in Pennsylvania, managed by the best real estate lawyer ever, Michael Maley. The three of us were able to wrap everything up and be back on the road to Florida by January 14. On the sixteenth, we finally opened a bottle of bubbly to celebrate our move to Florida that had been given to us by the realtor who facilitated the purchase of our Florida home. It had been chilling in our fridge since May 17. We had not felt like celebrating until we felt we were free of the other home. On Friday, January 17, our Shabbat dinner was a Tu B’Shevat seder. I had almost everything I needed for the seder either in the pantry or the freezer. It was beautiful!

On the next evening, Saturday, we really began to celebrate with a very special Chef’s Table dinner at the Edgewater Hotel in Winter Haven. We arrived to find an antique car show in progress along the main street of quaint Winter Haven and we took some photos before sitting down to dinner. Ari and I ordered the wine pairing to accompany the various courses and Saul had a few sips of each one. The meal was amazing! The next day, we took a drive to Clearwater Beach, but Ari’s experience of Clearwater, due to the damp weather, cold water, and piles of seaweed at the water’s edge was nothing like the previous experiences we had had. I hope he will come back to enjoy it as we had done before on numerous occasions. Meanwhile, back in the north, the whole polar vortex thing had begun with snow and ice storms, school closings and power failures. Sami and the girls used some of the time for creative projects at home. On January 22, the dining room table and chairs I had ordered back in May finally arrived! They were worth the wait. I just love them. While he was here, Ari helped me to pick out lighting fixtures and home accessories that had been put on hold until the sale of the house. I ordered and received some items of furniture that had been waiting in my shopping carts online for months. The whole house really started to come together beautifully. On good weather days, we hung out by the pool, or enjoyed the parks. We finally got to try the new restaurant in The Magic Kingdom, “Be Our Guest.” We waited in line for about 45 minutes and had lunch there, which was a unique experience. On entering, you choose your meal from a computerized menu at an ordering station that looks a bit like a casino slot machine in a very elegant castle-like setting. You are presented with an artificial rose-shaped homing device and choose any table in one of three French-castle-themed rooms straight from the “Beauty and the Beast” animated movie. We sat next to a wall of soaring Palladian windows which appeared to look out onto a night-time French countryside in which it was snowing. There was actual, artificial snow falling outside the windows. The homing device allows the waiters and waitresses in French colonial garb to find you and serve you the appropriate choices from a glass-encased, mahogany-framed rolling cart reminiscent of the cribs they use in hospitals to wheel out premature newborns, or perhaps Snow White’s tomb. We discovered at lunch that if you find an employee with a clipboard as you leave, you might be able to snag a dinner reservation that evening based on the day’s cancellations. We had been unsuccessful at booking dinner reservations there even a few months out, so we were delighted to be able to book really late reservations for the same evening. The dinner service is far more formal and expensive, but not unreasonably so. We felt we had a very wonderful dinner in a unique setting for a reasonable amount. We were happy to be able to view most of the fireworks show outside the castle before we went in for dinner. I also was absolutely delighted to be able to celebrate with a glass of French Sancerre wine from the Loire Valley, which I have not been able to locate by the glass since we dined in Paris over 20 years ago.

Trying to squeeze in all the fun we could before Ari was leaving for London for at least two years, we spent more sunny, warm days by the pool, and, the night before his flight, we had dinner at Monsieur Paul’s, an upscale French restaurant on the second floor above the regular French restaurant at France, Chefs de France, in the World Showcase of Epcot. Dinner, again, was truly wonderful, although I was a bit disappointed not to be able to get my beloved Sancerre by the glass there. Our wonderful, authentically French waiter, however, recommended a French pinot noir to accompany my meal which was quite good. That night, beginning at about 2:00 a.m. I became very ill with what I feared was food poisoning. I was aghast to think that Saul, and especially Ari, would have to deal with what I was going through while involved with packing, airports, and a long airplane flight. There was not a single food or beverage that we did not share at dinner the previous evening. In the morning, to my relief, I learned that both Saul and Ari had slept well and were feeling fine. By 6:00 a.m. I was feeling okay and felt fine by 8:00 a.m. after a two-hour nap. Apparently, I had been the unfortunate victim of a nasty 4-hour stomach virus. I later found out that Randi had experienced the same weird symptoms back in Pennsylvania a few days before they arrived here in Florida at the beginning of February.

A couple of days after Ari arrived safely in London, Saul and I met Adele and Larry at First Watch in The Villages for breakfast. We brought Adele home with us for a few days to visit. On the way back from The Villages, we spent the whole day shopping to put in provisions for the visit from Ken and Randi, and subsequently, Haley and Erik. We discovered that The Villages have a very active Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. (they even import the water from NY!), but we decided we prefer the Clearwater bagels even more. We stopped at Tuesday Morning in The Villages, Aldi’s, B.J.’s, Walmart, and the Cagan Crossings farmers market. We had a beautiful Shabbat dinner together with the groceries I had purchased along the way. Saturday evening, we took a walk to the Epcot gate from Disney’s Boardwalk. Adele had never been at The Boardwalk and was really taken with how realistically it mimicked the Atlantic City of our youthful vacations, albeit for only short distance. The weather was threatening rain the whole time, but we lucked out and only experienced a light drizzle for a few minutes. As all the restaurants there had at least a half hour wait, we decided to have a late dinner on the way home at Bahama Breeze, which has a late-night, half-price happy hour menu of appetizers and drinks. We had a great time schmoozing in the happy atmosphere of mostly-vacationing families.

The schmoozing continued with the arrival of Ken and Randi and we all spent a lovely, warm and sunny day hanging around the pool. Larry came to pick up Adele and we all had lunch together. For Izzy’s birthday on February 2, we sent her a robotics kit with several motors that allow you to assemble and build whatever you choose. She made very good use of it in the large expanses of time available due to all the school closings for snowy, icy weather in February. We had brunch with Ken and Randi at First Watch in Orlando on February 3. While we were traveling back, the outside temperature registered 93°F. on our car’s gauge, even as the weather in PA and NJ was in the teens. Unbelievable! Another unbelievable sight that day was an ultralight airplane flying over our house. In advance of their stay with us, Haley and Erik sent us a floating chess, checkers, and backgammon set that can be used in the pool.

After a few days with us, Ken and Randi left in our Pilot for a pre-scheduled stay at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, and were very pleased with the doctors they encountered, the state-of-the-art facilities, and Ken’s test results, as well. After a few days there, on their drive back, they picked up Haley and Erik when they arrived at Orlando airport. Ever the consummate foodies, Haley and Erik, began their vacation, along with us, at their favorite steak restaurant, Charlie’s Steak House, on Rt. 192 near Celebration, as good a steak house as I have ever experienced. Thus fortified, we proceeded to celebrate Saul’s birthday with a string of amazing and decadent food experiences. After seeing the poignant movie, Monuments Mentogether at Downtown Disney’s AMC theater, we finally were able to fulfill our reservations at Fulton’s Crab House. On two previous occasions, we had had to cancel at the last minute. Our meal was, again, a home run, and I have to say that Fulton’s makes the best Bloody Mary I have ever had, bar none. Next up was another encounter at the Chef’s Table at the Edgewater Hotel. We were just as pleased with the experience as the first time with Ari, a great relief, because you never know when you laud a restaurant to someone if it will come back to haunt you with a fiasco on the next occasion. Everyone was just as pleased as we were with both the food and service. They were a bit surprised at the ambience, having expected a big, glitzy hotel from our unwitting description, instead of the quaint, bohemian atmosphere that prevails. Following this, Randi’s sister Lori and her husband, Jules, drove in from Boca Raton. They were staying at The Swan Hotel and walked down The Boardwalk to meet us for lunch at Big River Grill and Brewing Works. We sat at a table outside, soaking up the warm sunshine, and keeping a wary eye on the hovering rapacious seagulls. Afterward, Jules and Lori returned to their hotel and we hopped on a ferry boat which deposited us at the gates of Epcot. We spent some time rocking with The British Revolution band in the garden at Disney’s English Village, and roamed around Epcot, meeting with Haley and Erik who had spent the day at Epcot with Erik’s mom, Betsy, and his brother and sister-in-law, with their little boy. Erik’s family had dinner reservations at The Garden Grill in The Land Pavilion, while Ken and Randi, Saul and I, Haley and Erik, and Jules and Lori had reservations in France to celebrate Saul’s birthday on the actual day. We met Betsy, Haley and Erik at Test Track and walked Betsy over to the other side of the park to meet her children for dinner. Then we walked back to have a late, elegant, but very noisy dinner in the crowded downstairs restaurant, Chefs de France in “France.” Saul has two birthday cakes with candles in the photo because we were also supposed to be celebrating Jules and Lori’s anniversary, and the staff got their signals crossed.

As part of their vacation, Haley and Erik had pre-scheduled all of us, including Erik’s family, for a dinner at Mama Melrose’s in the Hollywood Studios park which included special seating for the evening’s performance of Fantasmic! The package deal enabled us to order absolutely anything from the menu, which, thanks to our knowledgeable and efficient waitress, enabled us to take more than we could eat with us in packages, which we snacked on a few hours later while watching the show on the stadium seats that surround the lagoon where the show is presented. Before the show, we had time to experience “The Great Movie Ride” together. Our foodie experience the next day was in Celebration at the Columbia Restaurant, which Ken and Randi had loved, and couldn’t wait to share with Haley and Erik. We had a late, delicious, dinner with a waitress who kept us entertained with funny stories as she waited with trepidation to see if one of the owners of the restaurant would arrive from the airport before closing time. We had a few false alarms, but he was a no-show, as we were among the last to leave at closing time.

We spent several hours on a few different occasions looking at condos in the area, as Ken and Randi have decided to sell their house and move nearby. Haley and Erik have just rented out their home in the suburbs and were getting ready to move into an apartment in the city of Philadelphia. They found a chair that they liked online from a chain that has outlets near us, Rooms to Go. We finally located the appropriate chair on the floor of the outlet in Kissimmee. We drove to see it and then, ever searching for the new food experience, Erik had previously discovered, by searching online, that nearby Lakeland was having a gourmet food truck extravaganza. Somewhat reluctantly, we all agreed to take the drive. We were glad that we did because it did turn out to be a very unique and delicious experience. As the sun set though, the evening turned distinctly chilly, and we were glad to abandon the windy, green expanse of the town square, surrounded by food trucks purveying every type of food imaginable, for the warmth of our heated S.U.V.

The next morning, after dropping off the four of them at the airport, Saul and I went to buy provisions for Shabbat dinner. We went to B.J.’s and discovered in the midst of our shopping that we had missed a phone call from Betsy. Erik’s brother, wife, and son had driven to Florida because they could not find a peanut-free flight. Their child has a life-threatening allergy. Betsy, who is afraid of flying, had taken a two-day train ride down. Because of severe ice-storms in North Carolina, her return train had been cancelled and she was unable to book another night at her hotel because it was full. She was stranded with no place to stay and no transportation. Haley managed to book a flight for her the following day. Saul and I left from B.J.’s immediately when we heard the situation, and went directly to pick her up. We had relaxing, no fuss, Shabbat dinner together. In the morning, I gave Betsy a few of the Lorazepam tablets that I take when I fly, and she said, over breakfast, that she felt it kick in to calm her down. We also plied her with lots of fresh ginger tea to settle her stomach. During the drive to the airport, she was freaking a bit because she couldn’t find her driver’s license for identification that she had been holding that morning. When she arrived back in Philly, after an apparently smooth and uneventful flight, she laughingly texted us that she had stuffed it into her bra for safekeeping and then forgotten that she did it. Luckily, she remembered in time at the airport. Erik’s brother and family also returned home after driving through some harrowing weather, safe and sound.

Having overdosed, happily, on lots of wonderful food, we spent the following week detoxing by eating healthily at home, swimming, walking in the parks, and shopping a bit. Not long after, friends of Jessica and Alex from their life in Baltimore came to stay at the Disney Resorts for a few days during Presidents’ Weekend. Alice, with her daughters, Leanne, and Danielle were here with her sister and her sister’s two children for a brief family vacation. On two of the days, we met them in the afternoons at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom and enjoyed the spectacular weather and made use of our “Tables in Wonderland” discount card. The first day, we lunched together at the new Moroccan restaurant at Epcot, The Spice Road Table. It was the only really poor Disney experience we have had. The portions were so tiny (think half a breakfast-sized sausage, or two olives)  that we were compelled to order more food, also tiny portions, so the bill was quite large, over $120 for the eight of us. Although they had told us at the front that they accepted the discount card and the waiter had also nodded off on it when we showed it to him when we ordered, when it was time to pay the check, the card was rejected. We were ticked off enough to complain at Guest Services, but, while sympathetic, they did nothing to rectify the situation. At the Magic Kingdom the next day, we waited in line at “Be Our Guest” so that they could continue to enjoy the rides. They absolutely loved the lunch there and felt it was a good value and fabulous ambience. They had scheduled reservations well in advance for dinner at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant, and Saul and I were able to add ourselves to their reservation when we stopped in to check. We went on many of the rides with them, using our Fast Pass Plus to save them time waiting in some of the lines. It was such a fabulous day that we stayed with them until after dinner to view the light show on the castle and fireworks.

The following week, I began experimenting with food. I turned me and everything in the kitchen bright yellow preparing fresh turmeric that I had purchased at First Oriental Supermarket in an attempt to make a liver detox tea from a recipe that Jessica found online when we realized that the spices in the Southern Indian food at Rajbhog and Woodlands were very effective at lowering my glycemic index. The tea, which included cinnamon, coconut milk and honey among other things, was delicious, but did not do enough to lower the numbers based on the amount of work to prepare it. Luckily, OxiClean in a bucket was successful at removing most of the stains, or my Cuisinart would have been ruined; probably my kitchen counters, too.  One of my best experiments involved incorporating several cups of a variety of high protein, non-glutinous flours into my challah recipe. I will be putting that recipe on my other blog shortly, and may never make it with all standard bread flour again because it was so delicious, healthy, and beautiful.

On February 22, we went to the Magic Kingdom in the evening to walk and found ourselves there until almost midnight because we had such a good view of the Electric Parade and the light show and fireworks. As we were leaving, we discovered that the entire monorail system had been shut down, and I was leery of getting on an overcrowded ferry boat at night to get back to our car. We hung around for a while, getting really close up photos of the parade a second time in the very uncrowded park, and by then, the monorail had been repaired and we got back to the car in record time.

During the rest of February, we continued to enjoy the great weather, swimming in our pool for a few hours every day, eating out occasionally, checking out condos for Ken and Randi, organizing our house, and walking in the parks. We could not be more contented. We also spent a few days searching for flights to London and were rewarded with a very good price. We will be in Europe for almost two months. We also arranged to have all our medical checkups back in Pennsylvania with our long-time doctors. We scheduled routine physicals, colonoscopies, and a mammogram for me all within a one-week period at the beginning of May.

At the beginning of March, we went to the AMC theater at Downtown Disney to see a matinee showing of The Wind Rises, the new, and probably the last, Miyazaki movie, as he is set to retire at 73. It is a beautiful and haunting tale based on real-life characters. When the movie ended, I felt very sad that such artistry will be at an end. Following the movie, we had a leisurely dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack where the chef makes us a special preparation of spicy chili citrus sauce that allows me to indulge without raising my glycemic index.

On March 4, we attended the Plant City Strawberry Festival. It was a huge extravaganza covering several acres of tract with carny rides, street food stands, midway games, livestock shows, pig races, sales booths, displays of local crafts, preserves, quilts, sewing, knitting, etc. as well as a huge stadium with country-western performances by well-known groups, such as The Oak Ridge Boys. Thousands of people were in attendance. We walked around for several hours, but the heat and humidity got to us after three hours of walking and we decided not to stay for the performance of Brenda Lee. After a quick late lunch at a Sonny’s (I could not bring myself to sample the fare at the questionably sanitary booths) we collapsed at home. We had lucked out bagging a reservation at Victoria and Albert’s, an uber upscale restaurant at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel. We had tried for months to get a reservation, and one last try a few days before my birthday had succeeded. That was another reason that I didn’t want to risk doing damage to my system with carny food.

We spent the morning of my birthday at Epcot where Disney’s Flower and Garden Festival was just opening. The park, which is usually beautifully landscaped anyway, was exceptionally gorgeous with the addition of topiary gardens, myriads of flowers planted in designs around all the water features and lagoon, breath-taking bonsais, and herb-surrounded booths selling ethnic delicacies from around the world in the World Showcase. The weather was beautiful and temperate, so we strolled for hours. In the afternoon, we met a realtor, so we could take Ken and Randi on a virtual tour of another possible condo, on which they bid, but subsequently, the bank withdrew from the market. We rested for a few hours in the afternoon, too excited about our 9:15 p.m. reservations to take a proper nap beforehand. The experience was scintillating on so many levels, probably the second or third best of my life, just after The French Laundry and an incredible meal in Paris many years ago. It was my first time at the Grand Floridian Hotel, which is over-the-top in a way that only Disney can pull off. Under the elaborate white portecochère, a complimentary valet took our car and directed us to the restaurant on the second floor overlooking the soaring skylit lobby. A full orchestra in period clothing was adding beautiful music to the majestic spectacle. The entrance is so tucked away that we had trouble finding it and had to ask at the gift shop. Even the salesgirl was not quite sure where to find the entrance. We were met by a receptionist and greeted by a hostess in Victorian garb who ushered us through a set of double French doors to our table. The room was small, housing about two dozen tables and was done in shades of peach, gold and tan. A large table with a huge fresh flower arrangement was the focal point at the center of the room. Our waiters were dressed in Victorian morning suits and were pleasant and low-key, but were extremely well-versed in their craft. Our customized menus were presented in leather cases. I ordered the wine pairings and Saul helped me with a few sips of each one (seven in all), although they poured a complimentary quantity of Champagne for him right at the beginning. I drank all seven of them, for the most part, over the next three hours without any sulfite reactions or headaches, something to which I am very prone. I was able to walk out (with a very pleasant buzz) in my high heels, and had no hangover the next day. We finished every morsel and drop of everything we were served, except for the last course of exquisite bonbons, which they wrapped for us and added to a complimentary bag at the end along with a remarkably good, freshly-baked loaf of orange-date-nut bread spiked with Triple Sec, our souvenir menus, and a long-stemmed red rose. Writing about the delights of the meal itself would take several pages, but suffice it to say that each course was gorgeous to behold and was a wonder of contrasting tastes and textures. The employees in Disney World always tell you, “Have a magical day!” My birthday was, definitely!

We went to synagogue at Ohalei Rifka for services on Saturday, took a nap after lunch in the afternoon, and then returned to Epcot to walk because the weather was so perfect, and because there was a rockin’ concert by the Guess Who. We bought some delicious sandwiches from the nearby kiosk, and ate them while we watched the concert under the starry sky. Then we watched the IllumiNations fireworks show over the lagoon, walked back to the Boardwalk to pick up our car from the complimentary valet at the hotel there, and drove the 15 minutes back to our beautiful home. I can’t imagine life being any better. May the Florida bubble never burst!